Many years ago when I was a struggling actress/single mom, I sometimes had to pay for gas with a handful of pocket change, which usually meant I wouldn’t eat lunch that day. It was rough juggling bills, trying to deem which collector was worthy of my hard-earned cash, and who would have to wait an extra week or so. I was constantly working at least two jobs, and in-between work I was also going on auditions, taking acting classes, working as an extra and/or doing commercials–whatever it took to bring in enough money to survive.
It never occurred to me to get on food stamps, although I probably could have qualified. I just worked and worked and worked.
Even back in ’96 when I gave up acting, Hollywood was a very different town. There was no such thing as “reality shows,” no chance at instant fame-for-no-real-reason. No one had computers, digital cameras, or easy access to printers so maintaining an actor’s always-needed inventory of headshots and updated resumes was expensive and time-consuming.
Times were tough for me back then, but I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for young actors in the entertainment industry today. Despite their technological advantages, at almost $5 per gallon the gas alone would’ve wiped me out for good, and having to compete with people like Snookie for work? Sigh.
Two of my most favorite 20-somethings know these difficulties firsthand because they are living the artist’s life here in Los Angeles.
I’m calling them “Sam and Ellie” to protect their identities; both work in very liberal areas of show business and they could potentially lose their jobs if I named them.
Sam and Ellie live in an old 1920s apartment building near downtown Los Angeles. They are within walking distance of some amazing Asian restaurants and know the best places to get interesting and very cheap food, including a rotating sushi bar with ‘happy hour’ sushi at $2 per plate. They’ve learned that the cheapest grocery stores are the Mexican and Asian markets, and they save up all their quarters to use at their local laundromat.
Like many 20-somethings of the past few decades, they eat lots of Top Ramen noodles (“spicy beef is the best”) and know every item on every “dollar menu” in town.
Sam has lived in Los Angeles most of his life other than a few years in New York. In high school, he was in an award-winning choir with several now-famous movie and TV stars. He was also briefly an actor but instead fell in love with all things behind-the-scenes and he is currently working in production, with aspirations of being a screenwriter and director. In his spare time, he creates short films and videos, including visuals for Ellie’s music.
And speaking of Ellie…
Ellie is Sam’s lovely and ultra-talented 23-year old girlfriend. Her single mother (now deceased) was once a famous author so Ellie grew up traveling all over the world.
One word to sum up Ellie would be “Musician” with a capital “M.” She plays classical guitar and writes, composes and produces all her own original music. Ellie has gotten everything she has completely on her own, without any help from big Hollywood manager-types or rich family members.
Despite the fact that Sam and Ellie work in the entertainment industry, they are both very strong conservatives. Their beliefs could literally be a detriment to their line of work, yet they still try to sneak off to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Larry Elder in their cars when they can and they avoid talking about politics in public. Neither can afford to lose any work in such shaky, unsure times.
I ask what their biggest difficulties are living in Los Angeles and both say “money.”
“It’s so hard to keep up,” Sam says, looking down at his hands. “No matter how hard we try, how hard we work, we’re still barely getting by.”
“If I get some great gig and make a big chunk of money,” Ellie says, “by the time we pay our rent and buy food and fill up our cars, it’s gone. Completely gone. It gets beyond frustrating at times, makes you wonder if it’s all worth it.”
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